Schools – power house of the economy

The Key

See all posts by FergalThe Key’s recent joint survey with Ipsos Mori showed how seriously school leaders take their responsibility for educating the whole child. I think they should recognise, too, how much schools are the power house of our economy.

At a recent speech day in the school where I am a governor, Lord Bichard highlighted the danger of thinking too narrowly about what is a productive curriculum. As former chair of the Design Council, and Rector of the University of the Arts, London, he challenged his listeners – including me – to think hard about the value of design and the arts within the British economy.

Are schools being encouraged to narrow down the curriculum with too much stress on literacy and numeracy at the expense of the arts? Is art still regarded as a soft option? Do ambitious parents and headteachers value “safe” professions such as medicine, law and accountancy more highly than design and invention? Perhaps we have enough lawyers and accountants, thank you.

Of course, any balanced economy (one that is not, for example, based solely on oil) has to depend on ideas, skill, hard work and the ability of people to work constructively together if it is to grow and thrive. The UK is a world leader in the fields of design and technological innovation. We are crying out for more highly-skilled designers, imaginative software engineers and adventurous project managers – and yet we run the risk of devaluing creativity and design in our school curriculum.

This was seriously challenging food for thought.

Comments 3

  1. tenpencemore 10th July 2014

    And of course, what you learn at school, doesn’t always have to be what you are going to ‘be’ when you grow up. It can be misleading to think that because you learn the arts as part of your school curriculum that this means you will be working in the arts as an adult. A rich and varied curriculum can expose you to concepts and skills that can enhance any profession and can also bring you great joy and connection with others outside of the workplace.

  2. David Triggs 10th July 2014

    Interesting think piece Fergal. Whilst I agree with Lord Bichard’s concerns about the breadth of the curriculum, we must remember that not all young people are subject to these constraints. Independent schools are at liberty to offer their pupils and students a curriculum that develops their skills, talents and interests as well as promoting the growth of self-esteem, independent thinking and self-worth. I am increasingly concerned that the disparity between the two sectors is putting our state school educated young people at a significant disadvantage when competing for jobs and career opportunities. Over ten years ago the Singapore Education Bureau realised that creativity was the key to their country’s future and took steps to build it into all aspects of learning. The same is true for the UK but sadly only a minority of young people are being given the opportunity to enter the new world. My greatest concern is that over-regulation and central control is ‘dimming down’ the bright lights of brilliance that shine in so many of our young people in the early years of their lives. Literacy in the 21st century UK must be viewed entitlement for all pupils not a ‘target’ for a Headteacher. Creative design skills in children and young people must be encouraged and nourished if we are to see the benefits of 21st century education. Teaching ‘code’ to five year-olds, is not ‘dumbing’ down but ‘dimming’ down our education system.

  3. Fergal Roche – Chief executive 11th July 2014

    Interesting comments, David and Tenpencemore. Three points: 1) I agree that young people should learn literacy and numeracy as platform entititlements and that we should build confidence and ambition on top of those; 2) Ian Livingstone (he of Lara Croft gaming and the new computer curriculum) visited The Key recently and convinced us that children and young people can get very excited about coding, even at a young age; 3) I think schools need to understand quite how exciting and empowering the work place can be. The more that young people are in touch with what excites them, what they are good at and how they can contribute, the more value they will be to the world of work – and the more they will feel good about being in it.

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